On Friday morning, ex-White House doctor Ronny Jackson confidently told Fox News that Donald Trump was not exhibiting any symptoms from coronavirus.
Shortly after, a White House official came forward to confirm that Trump was, actually, experiencing symptoms – albeit minor ones – and reports said Trump had appeared tired on Wednesday and “seemed lethargic” on Thursday. On Friday afternoon he was taken to Walter Reed military hospital.
The flip-flop after Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, tested positive for coronavirus fit a long-running pattern of misdirection by Trump and his aides over the president’s health – making it difficult to trust any official statements even at a time of intense crisis.
The litany of incidents is long. Eyebrows were raised over Trump’s supposed robustness during his first presidential campaign, after his then doctor released a hyperbolic letter about his health.
“If elected, Mr Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” Harold Bornstein wrote in December 2015.
The letter gushed that Trump’s “physical strength and stamina are extraordinary”, and his bloodwork was “astonishingly excellent”.
Nearly three years later Bornstein confessed that Trump had dictated the note himself, but the skulduggery over Trump’s wellbeing did not end there.
Bornstein, whose flowing hair, grey beard and penchant for chunky silver necklaces gave him an unlikely appearance for a man of medicine, also claimed that Trump’s longtime bodyguard, Keith Schiller, had conducted a “raid” on his office in February 2017, scooping up Trump’s medical charts and lab reports.
The gushing dispatch about Trump’s fitness wasn’t the last doctor’s note to be questioned.
In 2018 Jackson reported that Donald Trump weighed in at 239lb during his annual medical exam.
That put Trump a pound shy of being obese.
But in Jackson’s report, he had clocked Trump as being 6ft 3in tall – meaning the president had apparently grown an inch since 2012, when his driving license listed him as 6ft 2in.
Using Trump’s driving license height, he would have been classed as medically obese.
Many at the time were quick to point to photos of Trump standing next to Alex Rodriguez, the former New York Yankees star, who is 6ft 3in tall. In the pictures, Rodriguez is clearly taller than Trump. Similarly, photos of Trump standing next to the 6ft 1in Barack Obama in 2017 seemed to show that the pair were the same height.
When discussing his 2018 report, Jackson told reporters Trump’s health was “excellent”.
Asked how the president, who has a penchant for fast food and who avoids exercise because he believes it drains the body’s “finite” energy resources, could be in such great shape, Jackson said.
“I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old. But I would say the answer to your question is he has incredibly good genes and it’s just the way God made him.”
Jackson, a former rear admiral in the navy who resigned from the White House in 2018, is running for the House of Representatives in November, and has been enthusiastically endorsed by Trump.
In 2019 Trump’s medical revealed that the president had gained weight, and was now considered obese.
More serious, and clandestine, was Trump’s impromptu hospital trip, on a Saturday, in November 2019.
Just as contradictory messaging was sent out about Trump’s Covid-19 symptoms, the White House offered differing descriptions of why the president was taken to the Walter Reed national military medical center, just outside Washington.
The then White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, initially said Trump had gone to the hospital to begin his annual medical, but CNN soon reported that the visit “did not follow the protocol of a routine presidential medical exam”, and was not listed on the White House schedule.
Two days after the trip, the Trump administration language changed. Trump was no longer at hospital to begin his medical, but was instead undergoing an “interim checkup”.
In September this year a book by the New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt alleged that Vice-President Mike Pence was put on standby as Trump went to the hospital.
Trump and his aides have also sought to exaggerate his mental acuity, as well as his physical duress.
The president has repeatedly said he aced a “difficult” cognitive test, as Trump has attacked Joe Biden’s sharpness.
In an interview with Trump in June, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace brought up the issue of the cognitive test. Wallace said he had taken the test himself.
“It’s not the hardest test,” Wallace said.
“They have a picture and it says: ‘What’s that?’ and it’s an elephant.”